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Collaboration is the key to saving lives and protecting property

Through an engagement with Esri Canada’s NG9-1-1 experts, the City of Kingston hosted a series of meetings with municipal representatives across the City, Frontenac County and Lennox & Addington County to assess the municipality’s readiness for NG9-1-1.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies or positions of the Corporation of the City of Kingston.

When the CRTC announced an overhaul of the country’s 9-1-1 system, it left in its wake many people trying to understand the impact on data governance, funding, jurisdictional responsibilities, network availability, and more. Under the scope of next generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1), locating the caller and routing the call to the appropriate PSAP clearly puts GIS and location services at its core.

“My first question upon hearing the news on next generation 9-1-1 was ‘how on earth were we to make this happen?’ knowing that the way we are operating now will not be an option and we would need more than the usual players involved in data production,” said Phil Healey, Manager Enterprise GIS Services, City of Kingston. “This will be transformational and figuring out how to address it requires a heightened level of awareness and collaboration, applying new thinking, new technologies, and new business models to create a more sustainable public safety response system.”

Through an engagement with Esri Canada’s NG9-1-1 experts, the City of Kingston hosted a series of meetings with municipal representatives across the City, Frontenac County and Lennox & Addington County to assess the municipality’s readiness for NG9-1-1.

On the agenda was to surface the current state of location data for the region so that all participants are informed about the quality of data and its reliability for their public safety needs.

Finding the backbone of public safety location data

NG9-1-1 is the evolution of E9-1-1, where the caller data—specifically, the phone number and location—is automatically provided to the emergency call taker’s screen via a location exchange carrier’s identification database. The move to a next generation system was driven in large part by the current means of communicating via IP and mobile devices, where locating the caller and the event coordinates may be problematic. This issue is compounded by the duplicative datasets that city departments create independently of each other to meet their own business needs (e.g. storing street centerlines, property-related data) but not being able to share key and important data.

Kingston Police

Location currency is the binding agent for public safety data, so it was core to the discussions held by the City of Kingston and its partners. The assessment workshop compared the city’s geodatabase and schemas to NENA’s NG9-1-1 standards. As an example, addresses with missing street types were exposed and positional accuracy with imagery data were graded. Fortunately, the City performed well in this area. “We came out of the meeting with a better understanding of our geodatabases, but more importantly, formed an alignment on what is required for data integrity with respect to public safety,” said Healey.

Additionally, to help strengthen the evolving processes, the group revisited its existing geospatial cooperative, which was characterized as successful and added much value to the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington region.

Forming a culture of collaboration

A total of fifteen people participated in the City of Kingston’s NG9-1-1 readiness workshop. Members came from corporate services, public safety leadership, planning, engineering and IT groups, as key stakeholders in the region’s initiative for NG9-1-1 readiness. Recognizing that data integrity is critical, a few topics on information management were highlighted as subject areas to improve:

Kingston Fire and Rescue

  1. Sequencing of spatial data updates for first responders

The City of Kingston’s enterprise GIS provides spatial (geography and location) services and data to various departments and partners, including police, fire and rescue services for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington, as well as the Ministry of Health (for Paramedic Services). As the City grows and new assets and roads come online, spatial and asset data become included in the City’s geodatabases and then fed out to departments, including first responders. Fire and rescue, for example, updates its computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system maps quarterly. If the city provides new civic addressing in between the CAD updates, caller location validation in CAD will be an issue since the street name or building number won’t match, forcing the call-taker to “push” through the correct addressing. This means pertinent information might not accompany the address through the CAD system. In some cases, first responders may end up responding to the wrong street.

On the other hand, CAD systems collect event and location data, which includes ad-hoc notations on city geography, of which very little would flow back into the City’s enterprise GIS. This creates multiple versions of the truth for the City’s geography and routes. The differences in mapping consistency across the greater Kingston area’s municipalities pose a risk to the safety of citizens. An outcome of the workshop was an agreement across the stakeholder group to address how and when these updates are done so the needs of public safety are better met.

  1. Communication coordination among city infrastructure departments

Similarly, coordination and syncing of city projects related to public assets and roads, and road infrastructure is a need, with added emphasis on the temporal nature of projects. City-wide projects such as road network expansion and relocation of public-owned assets support the growth of cities. But these changes affect the reliability of public safety routing. A wrong turn could lead to seconds lost. And seconds count in the case of 9-1-1. Communicating when city projects are happening and how long they last is very important to the PSAPs as they route their responders to the event location. It is equally important that first responders are seeing the same location data and structures as the dispatch. Therefore, agreeing to a data stewardship that is shared by the City’s departments was a key win for all in the workshop.

Making this all work

To achieve what many have come to call “Public Safety Grade GIS” requires communication, trust and confidence in building the solutions to protect the lives and property of citizens. For the City of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Counties, and its departments, the process began with the NG9-1-1 readiness workshop which culminated into task groups to address data auditing, collection and governance. “Progressively better collaboration yields progressively better productivity and strategic returns,” said Healey. “This process is going to grow spatial literacy where we will gain a single view of our network, enhancing public safety and speeding up innovation to reshape public service delivery. Operationally, we will have more efficient processes, accelerated decision making, and a reduction in cycle times. The readiness for next generation 9-1-1 is going to come from our readiness to collaborate.”

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Desmond Khor works with multi-industry stakeholders to connect stories with opportunities. As a Marketing Manager at Esri Canada, Desmond is helping to build a stronger, more connected community around technology and the business capabilities of location intelligence.

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